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Style Magazine

Throught the Grapevine

Sep 11, 2013 11:21AM ● By Style
by Morgan Cásarez, Photography by Dante Fontana

Vino, vin, wein, viini

call it what you will, but the language of wine is universal. From Spanish reds to French bubblies, there are endless options when it comes to selecting a bottle of fermented goodness, but how do you know whether you’ve made the right choice? Should pairing rules of the past dictate when and what you drink, or is it okay to throw caution to the wind? You’ve got questions and Style’s wine experts have the ultimate collection of tips, tricks and industry insights, so pull up a barstool and raise a glass to our favorite local tastemakers.

Shelly WinzelerShelly Winzeler Co-Owner, The Wine Smith

Co-Owner, The Wine Smith - Placerville, CA

Shelly Winzeler’s love affair with wine began when she was just 19 and working in a fine dining restaurant. Trained in the ways of French vin by a sommelier, she discovered her keen palate through weekly tastings. Having ignited her life’s passion at such a young age, she says she was “fortunate” to live outside the U.S. in later years and experience other cultures and the offerings of their wine regions. Now, as co-owners of The Wine Smith in Placerville, Winzeler and her husband, Jeff, are known throughout Placerville for the thoughtful, individualized attention they provide every customer who passes through their door. Their cozy Main Street boutique offers more than 200 different varieties of wine, Champagne and Port (in addition to a selection of craft beers), while daily tastings unite connoisseurs and novices from far and wide the way only good wine can. “It’s always a rewarding experience when you have customers returning who appreciated their wine purchase,” Winzeler says. “I love being a part of this community and that is what our business is all about. Our motto is, ‘Come as a stranger, leave as a friend!’”

Q:    What is your favorite local wine and winery?
A:    I don’t have a favorite local wine and/or winery because that would be like asking a mother to name her favorite child. With that being said, we have some wonderful local wineries that are producing outstanding regional wines. A few of my favorite local varietals include Barbera, Grenache, Mourvedre, Tempranillo, Zinfandel and Syrah.

Q:    What makes for an outstanding wine list?
A:    An outstanding wine list should be one that caters to your customers’ taste, pairs well with food, and also introduces people to something new.

Q:    Do you have any favorite wine gadgets?
A:    I love the Cork Pops Legacy wine opener for its ease of use and reliability. We also have a new product by HOST called Chill. It’s a cooling pour spout, which is great for keeping your whites cold or chilling down your reds in the summertime, so they don’t get too hot. I also like a product called The Totable, which is an insulated canvas wine bag with a carabineer that holds a bottle of wine; it’s great for hiking, boating or any other outdoor activity.

Q:    What are three of your best wine tips?
A:    1. Be adventurous and open to trying new things.
    2. Understand that there is no right or wrong when it comes to your taste buds. Drink what you like, not what you think the experts would recommend.
    3. Take care of your wine; store it appropriately and serve it at the desired temperature. It really does make a difference.

Mark FucciMark Fucci Director of Operations, Sienna and Land Ocean

Director of Operations,
Sienna - El Dorado Hills, CA
Land Ocean - Folsom, CA

It took working as a bar manager to really spark Mark Fucci’s interest in wine. As he devoted himself to developing a “high-volume, upscale wine list,” his desire to feature bottles of the highest caliber grew into the definition of a passion project. “I wanted to have guests tell me we have the best list in town,” he explains. “It became a challenge to find wines that would be the next big hit with our guests and team members.” Going forward, Fucci found that he truly enjoys all aspects of the wine acquisition experience—tasting, touring, purchasing, and even learning about the wineries turning out his favorites. As director of operations at Sienna in El Dorado Hills, he works to fill the restaurant’s impressive cellar with a selection of expertly crafted, yet well-priced wine that complements Executive Chef Moses Hernandez’s New American cuisine. With more than 80 by-the-bottle and 20 by-the-glass selections to choose from, Fucci is committed to keeping his list fresh and enticing for all palates. “Our clientele loves quality wine and it’s a huge piece of the experience we provide at both restaurants,” he says. “When we make a new guest a regular guest, we win!”

Q:    What is your favorite local wine and winery?
A:    My favorite local wine is Barbera. It’s good on its own, and it can also be a great food wine, especially with BBQ [and] marinara sauces. It’s definitely my favorite pizza wine. Borjon Winery, located in the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County, is one of my favorites. They have some of the most well made, balanced wines in the area. They are great people too, so that also makes me a fan. Their Barbera is a winner and a big crowd pleaser at our restaurants.

Q:    What’s your favorite classic and atypical food/wine pairing?
A:    A great classic wine paring at Land Ocean is our USDA Prime rib eye paired with a bottle of Stags’ Leap Wine Cellars “Artemis” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. A premium steak and beautiful Cabernet will always be the king of parings! One pairing I personally love and recommend all of the time to our guests at Sienna is the seared scallop risotto with a Meiomi Monterey-Santa Barbara-Sonoma Pinot Noir. The flavors of the wild mushrooms and the rich creamy risotto lend itself to a full-bodied Pinot Noir. I’ve never had an unsatisfied guest with this amazing paring.

Q:    What are three of your best wine tips?
A:    1. If at all possible, drink a full glass of wine before committing to buy a bottle (not just at restaurants but wineries as well). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a wine that tasted great when it was sampled and then I have a full glass and it’s not all what I thought it was.
    2. Experiment! There are so many great wines that are affordable out there.
    3. Drink more bubbly, damn it! I don’t think enough people realize how much better your dining experience can be when you kick it off with some bubbles.

John A. CunninghamJohn A. Cunningham Fine Dining Server, Henry’s Steakhouse

Fine Dining Server, Henry's Steakhouse - Placerville, CA

Fine dining server John A. Cunningham has been a member of the team at Henry’s Steakhouse in Placerville for the past three years but says it was his time at The Summit Restaurant at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe that taught him the ins and outs of wine appreciation. “The manager,” he explains, “was very enthusiastic about wines and food and it was very contagious.” Cunningham holds Advanced Wine and Spirits Certificates from Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada and Sterling Vineyards School of Service & Hospitality and believes wine has the power to elevate the Henry’s dining experience to “another level.” Consistently voted “Best Steakhouse“ in Style Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards, Red Hawk’s flagship eatery offers hundreds of wines hand-picked from El Dorado, Napa and Sonoma Counties, in addition to international bottles, ensuring that patrons have near-endless food and beverage pairing options. “[I love] when a guest asks for a recommendation,” Cunningham says, “and I have them try a new wine they’ve never had before and they really enjoy it.”

Q:    What is your favorite local wine and winery?
A:    My favorite is Windwalker Vineyards and their “Lady In Red” Bordeaux blend.

Q:    What makes for an outstanding wine list?
A:    Overall balance and relationship to the menu.

Q:    Do the old rules on pairing still apply or are there new rules?
A:    Yes, they still apply, but with the modern trends in food preparation the old rules are not so rigid anymore.

Q:    What’s your favorite classic and atypical food/wine pairing?
A:    Classic: a nice rib eye steak with a Meritage-style blend; atypical: Henry’s seared sea scallops (with grilled polenta, shallots, bacon, tomato and beurre rouge), served with a light Barbera like Jeff Runquist Barbera “R” from Amador County.

Q:    What are three of your best wine tips?
A:    1. Drink what you like.
    2. Try wine tasting flights when available.
    3. Visit local wineries to try their different styles.

Tracey BerknerTracey Berkner Owner, Taste

Owner, Taste - Plymouth, CA

Given her Sonoma County upbringing, it’s no surprise that wine has played a key role in Tracey Berkner’s success. The former California Culinary Academy and Culinary Institute of America at Greystone student took her first wine educational class nearly 25 years ago and says her “aha!” moment presented itself in the form of an aged German Riesling. As owner of Taste, located in the heart of the Sierra foothills wine region, Berkner and her patrons enjoy convenient access to more than 50 wineries located within 30 minutes of her Zagat-rated restaurant’s front door. “As a team,” she explains, “we are constantly looking at what wine we would pair with each dish from start to finish.” Berkner, a member of the Guild of Master Sommeliers, loves sharing the tools of her trade with her dedicated staff, and her attention to detail hasn’t gone unnoticed–since 2007, Taste has received Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence every year. “I’m…known for bringing a taste of a wine when a guest is having a dish that just makes the wine and dish sing,” she shares. “That element of surprise and appreciation on a guest’s face makes my day.”

Q:    What is your favorite local wine and winery?
A:    It depends on the time of year and what food I’m enjoying at that moment. In the spring, I enjoy the Terre Rouge Grenache Blanc with Dungeness crab and local asparagus. In the summer, my go-to wine is a dry Rosé from C.G di Aire Winery with fresh figs, prosciutto and bleu cheese. In the fall, sautéed mushrooms over creamy polenta with Borjon Los Portales Grenache; and in the winter, braised lamb shanks with Sobon Primitivo. Each winery offers such different experiences. When recommending a winery to our guests I always ask what kind of wines they enjoy and then direct them accordingly. For Sangiovese lovers, I send them to Vino Noceto; if they like big bold wines, I send them to Runquist; and if they are all about Zinfandel, I send them to Renwood.

Q:    Do the old rules on pairing still apply or are there new rules?
A:    Old rules do not still apply and haven’t applied for quite awhile. A firm fish with bacon and mushrooms would be great with a Pinot Noir or Grenache. A beef dish with garden fresh tomatoes and herbs could pair nicely with a dry Gewürztraminer or a full-bodied Chardonnay. Every Monday we pair a three-course meal with wine and, surprisingly, we are consistently surprised by what we actually end up pairing a dish with what we initially plan. We’re blessed with weekly education on wine and food pairing.

Q:    What are three of your best wine tips?
A:    1. Always order a varietal you’ve never tried.
    2. If you don’t like a wine after the first sip, let it sit for a while; it may take time to open up and show what it really has in store for you.
    3. Never stop learning about wine. There are wonderful wine shop owners, wineries, and restaurants that are geared toward helping you find your next favorite wine.

Q: What’s a good go-to wine to take to a dinner party?
A:    A bottle of bubbles. Sparkling wines are festive and pair great with many types of food.